What My First Week on Antidepressant Drugs Was Really Like

What My First Week on Antidepressant Drugs Was Really Like

Everyone seems to have an opinion on antidepressant drugs, and this is mine.

My name is Shilo, and I suffer from depression. Looking back at my life, it is easy to see bouts of depression – ‘funks,’ I called them – looming like dark clouds over the timeline of my years. But I always had a valid reason for being depressed: a cheating boyfriend, a move to a new town, a job that just wasn’t right.

But this time, there was no reason. Zero. Everything was going very well in my life. But the only thing that I could muster the energy to do was to lie on the floor with my dogs. For months. I felt overwhelmed and anxious and uninspired – and had no idea why. My therapist challenged me to do something nice for myself, and it took me over a week to think of one thing that I wanted to do (order a fully loaded pizza). When she mentioned depression, I shrugged it off – then went home and Googled “depression quiz.”

I scored scarily high marks on every quiz that I took, and their questions connected the dots of symptoms that I hadn’t linked together before. Trouble sleeping? Check. Weight gain? Check. Irritability? Check check check (and shut up!). I knew it was time to talk to my psychiatrist. Thankfully, I already had one to keep my ADHD in… check. I made the earliest appointment that I could.

Day 1: Monday

I meet with my psychiatrist in the afternoon and am diagnosed with depression. I don’t feel scared about this new diagnosis. On the contrary, I am hopeful that things can change. That I can change. My doctor prescribes citalopram (brand name: Celexa), an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor). She says that the antidepressants may make me feel sick at first, but the side effects will go away in time.

Can’t I just try natural remedies, I wonder? Natural remedies and cognitive behavioral therapy can often be effective to relieve situational depression (such as grief), she tells me. But for people whose brains have a biological predisposition for depression – like me – it often takes medication to make a real difference. I stop by the pharmacy after the appointment and fill my prescription.

At home, I research SSRIs online to see how exactly the antidepressant drugs work – only to find that no one really knows. Scary. I read about potential side effects, but ultimately decide that the risk worth it. I am desperate not to feel so horrible all the time. I take a 20-milligram pill right before bedtime.

Day 2: Tuesday

I wake up at 1:45 a.m. Something abnormal is coursing through my body, an alien substance. My heart is racing and I am covered in sweat. I might throw up. My throat is parched. It feels a little like I have over-imbibed on coffee, a tweaked out sensation, like a comedown from a high. I finally go back to sleep around 3:30 a.m., then wake up again at 5:30 a.m.

I still feel horrible and nauseated, with a gnarly headache that two acetaminophen pills (Tylenol) do nothing for. I try to write for a while (I work from home) but cannot. I am just too tired and my brain feels fuzzy. I go to lie down and don’t get up again until lunch.

During my post-lunch meditation, I notice that my body feels very still inside. Incredibly still – more still, in fact, than it ever has before. Afterward, I try to get back to work but am struggling. I can only do low brain-power work like checking emails. I take two more doses of acetaminophen that night for my headache, along with my dose of citalopram. Anxious to put the day behind me, I go to bed at 8:00 p.m.

Day 3: Wednesday

I wake up again in the middle of the night: hot, headachy, sweaty, and nauseated – but not quite as bad as the night before. I take two acetaminophen pills right after waking. I am able to work, but my brain is sluggish and foggy. My hands are shaking and my teeth are even chattering – WTH! I don’t leave my house all day, not even to walk my dogs. That evening, I take my dose of citalopram and go to sleep.

Day 4: Thursday

Once again, I wake up in the middle of the night feeling like crap and unable to go back to sleep. Grrrrr. I am exhausted in the morning, although I have no headache and am only slightly nauseated. But I am still dragging ass at work, writing at a snail’s pace and having trouble focusing. At this point, the sleep deprivation from three nights of shitty sleep is starting to affect me. I’m grouchy and craving sweets (my m.o. for fatigue). I take my dose and go to bed.

Day 5: Friday

Another restless night. I am exhausted in the morning and slow to get out of bed; my only other symptom is very mild nausea. I call my psychiatrist to see if I can take my antidepressant drugs in the morning instead of the evening – these sleepless nights are killing me. She says yes, but recommends that I take it as late in the day as possible that it doesn’t interfere with my sleep. Future experimentation will show me that this is 9:00 a.m.

Day 6: Saturday

I start taking my dose in the morning instead of the evening. My nausea and headaches are gone, but I still feel tired from a week of bad sleep – and very happy that it’s finally the weekend. I go to the grocery store for cereal and milk.

On the way out, I realize that I had chatted up the lady in front of me in the check-out line AND had cracked a joke with the cashier. Weird. Friendly and talkative is my natural personality, but it’s the opposite of how I have felt lately. For the first time, I have a glimmer of hope that the medicine might be working.

Day 7: Sunday

I sleep a little better, waking up in the middle of the night but then going right back to sleep. No headache or nausea in the morning, just a lazy day of rest to look forward to. Driving on the freeway to my parent’s house for Sunday lunch, I notice that I feel great. Fantastic, even.

When I had agreed to the lunch, it seemed like a chore – a burden, really, as I scribbled it down on my calendar with a sigh. It was just something else to dread. But here I was on the way to lunch, and it feels good. I feel good.

It’s a beautiful sunny day. Fried chicken is in my near future. Two cute wiener dogs are snuggled together in my backseat. I feel physically lighter. Holy shit – maybe the depression medicine WILL work. Maybe I can feel better again. Happy. Free. Like myself. I just want to feel like myself again. I turn up the radio and laugh.

3 Months Later

Finally getting the professional treatment I needed (at age 40) to alleviate my depression and anxiety has changed my life. I feel like my spirit has been freed from a cage that I didn’t even realize I was in. I’m sleeping well and feel better than I have felt since I was a child. I am writing this with tears in my eyes. I don’t know what the long-term future will hold for me, but I do know this: it looks brighter than it ever has before.

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